Urban Legends: Bloody Fairy Tales of the 21st Century

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An acquaintance told me a strange story that happened to a former colleague, a young newswoman, years ago. The newswoman was writing an article late at night, when she heard a disturbing noise through the door of her tiny flat…

She went to the door and realized it was a baby crying. She looked through the keyhole, but could not see anything. Alarmed and scared, she called the police. An officer on the phone screamed: “Don’t open the door! We are investigating several cases, when people did open. They were immediately attacked and stunned by an unknown assailant only to wake up a few hours later, raped, robbed and badly injured.”

Such a story could have happened to a friend of my friend in Berlin, Saint Petersburg, Tokyo or anywhere else. But it is rather a tale that keeps flooding mailboxes and social networks together with plenty of similar ones. Those stories are called urban tales, contemporary legends or creepypasta. By studying them more closely, we can learn about the fears and anxieties of the epoch that we are living in.

Environment based horrors

People have always told each other stories about mystical creatures such as fairies, giants or dwarves. Those short, anonymous narrations usually reflected settings in a rural environment. Grandmas talked about dire werewolves waiting in woods, noon witches marching across the fields and water goblins drowning careless peasants who had come to wash the laundry in ponds. However, the new millennium saw the advent of a new set of “fairy” stories that surprisingly resemble the old ones with but one exception – they depict different “creatures” in rather urban, industrial environments.

No more werewolves, beware of Slender man

In modern folklore, ghostly “Slender men” in city parks have replaced werewolves in forests. Instead of water goblins in ponds, urban legends terrify us with HIV-positive drug addicts malevolently putting infected syringes on seats in trams and buses. Like the old fairy tales about Baba Yaga, Hänsel and Gretel or Bone man (Коще́й), the modern stories include a strong element of deep, instinctive horror. Likewise, they warn us that particular places such as trams or housing estates (instead of woods and ponds) may be dangerous. Also the new supernatural creatures mirror the 21st century. A good example is represented by Slender man, originally invented on an Internet forum but soon appearing in a myriad of stories. This thin and extremely tall faceless man wears a black suit and appears in city gardens or on playgrounds. Sometimes he reaches out with tentacles or several long arms. Photoshop edited pictures show Slender man with his victims, usually children – before they disappear forever. Thin Slender man symbolizes the unconscious social fear of modern formalism, represented by dozens of faceless, nameless clerks, lawyers and managers who can meet you anywhere and cause you great harm by a single, dehumanised, perfectionist decision.

Black-eyed children or superstitious parents

Another common feature of old and new tales is that they both often figure children, in the position of prey as well as hunters. So-called black-eyed kids were reported by Internet users to knock on the doors of houses or cars. The kids did not have any pupils, entire eyes gaping dark like empty holes. These creatures usually begged for help in deep and mature voices. The characters that encountered them usually felt a strange inner compulsion to obey, but the instinct of self-preservation commanded them to refuse. The true believers are convinced that these kids could be aliens, ghosts or vampires. On the other hand, the stories could reflect a subconscious determination to help out helpless kids. This parental instinct is accompanied by an inner fear that the simple egoistic mind of a child will mercilessly exploit everyone who’s willing to serve it.

From copy and paste to creepypasta  

These stories usually appear in many different versions. They mutate in exactly the same way as biological genes. The better a story is, the more it spreads and the longer it survives. In pre-industrial times, every grandma used to improve each fairy tale a bit. Nowadays everyone who shares a story online may adjust its content. That is where the word creepypasta came from. The method of sharing online stories by copying and pasting them created the term copypasta that changed into creepypasta and became popular as a widely recognized nickname for urban legends.

Not only does technology help the legends to proliferate, it inspires them as well. The following tales have circulated all over the World Wide Web: A young lady got a phone call from her boyfriend who had died a couple of hours earlier. TV sets or computers suddenly started showing pictures of dead bodies that sometimes crawled out of the screen and intimidated terrified viewers. A little girl got stuck in a fridge while playing hide and seek. A teenage boy purchased a cursed camera that was able to record ghosts in its pictures.

Terrors of technology and medicine

People simply fear that modern gadgets will refuse to comply with human commands. Electronic devices indeed sometimes seem to demonstrate their own hostile will and consciousness. This makes them convincing accessories to horror stories. In addition, radical technical development has resulted in feelings of deep reality distortion. Many urban legends simply express the fear that technology may change the very fabric of reality.

Finally, medical matters are incredibly popular. As early as the 1970s, rumours spread about a “black ambulance” car. It was said to search among housing estates for lonely underage pedestrians. Poor kids were caught and used for as unwilling donors of their body parts and organs. They woke up in unknown places deprived of one kidney or left to die without a liver.

Those examples illustrate how modern folklore flourishes and echoes the psychodynamics of its anonymous creators. New stories appear every day, and you can easily find them online. But before you do – as you could expect at the end of any creepypasta text – you have to share this article with nine friends. If you do not, you’ll hear three knocks from below your bed at midnight and will then be exposed to an incredibly bloody terror straight out of your own super-charged imagination.

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